“The Tower of Silent Children is not unlike a Sundrance,” Hargis says. “And yet very different.”
Her voice is different, quieter. The hood hides her eyes, but Till imagines that they are closed, as she casts her mind back to a different time, a different place.
“Those who study in the tower never leave the Forbidden Island during their entire lives, nor speak to people from the outside world. Hence the name. They do not become Parsons, or Summoners. They serve the Council of Twelve, and the Guardian. Some are brought at a young age from Sundrances throughout the Realms, where they have distinguished themselves through their aptitude. Others are born on the island. I was among the latter.”
“Then your parents were in the tower, too?” Till shifts from one foot to the other. The chill of the forest floor is beginning to creep into his boots. “They were Silent Children, too?”
“They were,” Hargis says. “Though I never knew them. It is the custom. The Chosen may have children, and in fact this is welcomed, but they may not have families. It would distract them from their duties.”
“Oh.” Not to know your parents, even if they are right there with you? Till finds all of this terrible and heartbreaking. “Do the parents at least know who their children are?”
“That, too, would interfere with their devotion. The children are taken from their mothers, and reared elsewhere on the island, and returned to the Tower only at an older age, along with other newly admitted children. Of course most parents will still know, or at least guess, which children are theirs. But they will not have formed a bond, nor may they do so later. If they do, and it becomes known, they are banished from the Tower. None of the Chosen wish to invite such a fate.”
“Weren’t you sad not to know your parents?”
“I never dwelt on such matters,” Hargis says. “None of the Chosen do. Their lives are devoted to the Faith, and to their studies. The most suitable among them are recruited into the Council of Twelve, when a member passes on. And from among the most gifted of the girls, the next Guardian is chosen.”
“And so it was with you?”
“So it was with me. The former Guardian herself chose me, and completed my training during her last years.”
“You must be very proud,” Till says, though in truth he can only think how sad the lives of these Chosen must be.
“I know nothing of pride,” Hargis says. “I exist to serve.”
“To serve? But you have so much power! You can even tell the Emperor what to do.”
“Great power must always serve a purpose greater than itself. Fail to understand that, and all the power in the world will only lead you to ruin.”
Till doesn’t understand that at all. But there is something hard and unyielding in Hargis’s voice now. He knows better than to question her further.
“Will they put up statues of you in the Realms, now that you are Guardian?”
“Have you not noticed how all of these statues look the same?”
Till thinks for a moment. “They all have their hands raised, I guess, except this one, because it’s broken off. But I can’t really tell about their faces. On the ones I’ve seen, they’re so worn, especially this one. They could be anyone.”
“And that is as it should be,” Hargis says. “Even when they were made, you would not have seen their faces more clearly than now. The Guardian is not a person, but an idea. A symbol that never changes, even though millennia may pass.”
“The Faith has endured nearly three thousand years, and it is destined to endure until the end of the world. It can have only one face, and that is no face at all. You will understand that soon enough. Now come. The night grows chilly, and it is time that you took your supper.”
Hargis takes Till’s hand and leads him away from the shrine, toward the warm lights of the cooking fires below the hillock. Looking over his shoulder, Till catches one last glimpse of the statue’s featureless pale face.
Then it fades into the darkness gathering under the trees.
NEXT: The Wind Fens